SAN FRANCISCO — After 47 years of dedicated ministry and service to the Buddhist Churches of America, Rev. Kodo Umezu, bishop of the BCA, retired from the BCA ministry on March 31.

Rev. Marvin Harada

Prior to assuming the position of bishop and superintendent of the Hongwanji-ha North America District in 2012, Rev. Umezu served as the resident minister at the Fresno Betsuin Buddhist Temple, Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, and Buddhist Church of Oakland. Additionally, he served as director of the BCA Center for Buddhist Education and chancellor of the Institute of Buddhist Studies.

“It is with the deepest gratitude and appreciation for his devoted service to the BCA and to the propagation of the Nembutsu teaching that we extend our best wishes to Rev. and Mrs. Umezu. We wish them well in their retirement,” BCA said in a statement.

From April 1, Rev. Marvin Harada of Orange County Buddhist Church began his tenure as bishop of the BCA and superintendent of the Hongwanji-ha North America District.

Rev. Kodo Umezu

Rev. Harada has served at OCBC since 1986. He has been head minister at OCBC, supervising minister at Sacramento Betsuin and Vista Buddhist Church, and co-director of BCA Continuing Buddhist Education (CBE). He graduated from the University of Oregon in religious studies, received an M.A. from the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, and went on to study in Japan, at a Nishi Hongwanji seminary called Chuo-bukkyo-gakuin and at Ryukoku University, where he received an M.A. in Shin Buddhist studies.

“Over the years, I have had many wonderful teachers who have all had a tremendous influence on my ministry, like the late Rev. Haruyoshi Kusada, Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS), the late Rev. Gyomay Kubose, Buddhist Temple of Chicago, and the late Professor Takamaro Shigaraki, Ryukoku University,” Rev. Harada said. “Presently, my greatest teachers are those asking questions sincerely seeking the Dharma, giving me great opportunities to study and reflect as well. It is one of my great joys as a minister to conduct classes on Buddhism, and more specifically Shin Buddhism.”

Message About COVID-19 from the New Bishop

As I take office as bishop of the Buddhist Churches of America, we find ourselves living in an unprecedented time, facing a global pandemic that has hit our nation, state and communities.

In order to do our part to help prevent the spread of the virus, we have cancelled all of our in-person services and gatherings at our churches and temples and are all abiding by the “stay at home” directives.

We deeply miss seeing one another and being able to gather for a Sunday service or to be able to pay our respects to a dear loved one at their funeral service. Our Sanghas are living “communities” and now we must be isolated and apart from each other. It is a painful and difficult time for all.

Many have lost their jobs or their jobs are threatened by recession. Perhaps some of you know or have a loved one suffering from the virus and you were not even able to be with them during their time of need.

It is exactly during times of great duress that over the centuries in our Buddhist tradition many have turned to the Buddha-Dharma, for solace, for peace, for meaning. This time is no different.

Shinran Shonin wrote in one of his poems, or wasan, the following:

When we say “Namu-amida-butsu,”

The countless Buddhas throughout the ten quarters,

Surrounding us a hundredfold, a thousandfold,

Rejoice in and protect us.

(p. 355, Collected Works of Shinran)

What this poem is saying to me is not that saying Namuamidabutsu will prevent me from getting the virus, but it is saying that for the person who recites and receives the Nembutsu, that they are embraced within the world of Buddha, the world of wisdom and compassion, no matter what.

If I get the virus, Namuamidabutsu, I am embraced within the world of Buddha. If I don’t get the virus, Namuamidabutsu, I am embraced within the world of Buddha. Either way, get it or not get it, I am one with the timeless truth of immeasurable life and immeasurable light. That is the ultimate source of peace and solace.

May we face this challenging time together and may it give us even greater resolve to dedicate ourselves to support our temples and the BCA, so that we can continue to share the Dharma in whatever medium or manner that we can. May I ask for your support, understanding, and cooperation during my term. Humbly, I bow my head to all of you in saying, “Doozo, yoroshiku, onegai itashimasu” (May I humbly ask for your kindness and consideration).

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  1. Bishop Harada: Your Sunday talks are the highlight of my week. I appreciate your ability to express complicated realities in simple language. Thank you.